Peter Wolf – Paradise (Boston, MA)
It’s a lurve thing. That much can be said with certainty of Peter Wolf’s solo career, which has found the ex-J. Geils Band singer digging deep into his own roots, and those of rock ‘n’ roll, with a nurturing passion.
Wolf’s second recent appearance in Boston (where he once studied at the Museum School of Fine Arts) was a super-cozy lounge performance, courtesy of local radio station WBOS. As much as the razor-thin performer displayed his own considerable talents as a vocalist, storyteller and showman, the almost two-hour set featured the Bronx native fervently giving tribute to artists from Tennessee Williams to Toots Hibbert, from Curtis Mayfield to Son House.
With his stoic, seasoned five-piece band, Wolf soon ditched the idea of simply standing on a stage and reciting his punchy repertoire of covers and originals, many of the latter culled from his new album Sleepless. His forays off the stage began with a leisurely saunter through the audience, singing all the while without missing a note, even when he hopped on top of the bar to strut along it with alley-cat grace.
Later, nearby tabletops were co-opted as extensions of the tiny low stage for Wolf to nimbly straddle. The fiftysomething performer couldn’t resist a little dirty boogie with some of the ladies in the audience. It was, after all, a rock ‘n’ roll show — but one entrenched in the blues, with a little country, Latin, soul and pop flavor thrown in.
In his fervent Bronx-meets-Memphis accent, Wolf rattled off a tale about House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, et al., describing “the long line” of musicians who inspired one another. Naturally, Wolf’s 1996 song “Long Line” followed.
“I always like to say this,” Wolf confessed before announcing: “Mick Jagger couldn’t be here tonight…because he had seventeen women all doing naaasty things to him. It’s his loss,” sniffed Wolf. “By the end of tonight we’ll have 27!” The repartee was a colorful intro for “Nothing But The Wheel,” a Sleepless track that features a guest vocal from Jagger. Without the drawling Jagger and in this beefier live setting, the song sounded less like the ’70s Stones ode it resembles on record, instead becoming more of a heartfelt, gorgeously wearied ballad.
The boozy lullaby “Five O’Clock Angel” followed later, Wolf referencing Tennessee Williams for his first tipple of the day; “Oh Marianne” mixed doo-wop with a little Latin feel; and “Long Way Back Again” juxtaposed Wolf’s jerky wordplay with guitarist Duke Levine’s delicate slide traces. “Never Like This Before” was a heated Stax-style soul revue (minus any horns, though the snazzy Wolf added enough brassy pizzazz), while the dusky, urbane “Riverside Drive” conjured New York City’s well-worn pavement.
A lengthy encore began with slow to mid-tempo numbers before Wolf and band threw some fat boogie on the fire and sizzled. In true trooper fashion, Wolf and his band took their bows, old-school style.